This year’s state legislative season has seen extreme restrictions on abortion in several states voted into law, including so-called “fetal heartbeat bills” and even a near-andtotal ban on abortion in Alabama. More than 15 states have proposed or passed such bills. The motivation appears to be to generate a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which as it stands would prevent these bills from becoming enforced law. They will be challenged in the courts, but supporters hope the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe.
AAUW continues to support a woman’s self-determination in her reproductive health decisions. Deborah Vagins, AAUW’s senior vice president for public policy and research, has recently set out an appeal to donate so that AAUW may help counter these attempts to turn the clock back to the 1950s. AAUW has joined dozens of organizations nationwide to stand against the bans.
It is my hope as Director for Public Policy and soon-to-be President-elect that AAUW of Florida will wholeheartedly support AAUW’s position regarding reproductive freedom. I also realize that this is a troubling topic for some. If you are troubled, please read the rest of this post, which seeks to go beyond gut reactions and to bring some actual information to the topic.
As educated women, AAUW’s membership should be a receptive audience for facts and information to counteract false claims and misinformation. To begin, the bills that have passed in several states are called “fetal heartbeat bills” by both supporters and opponents. This implies that physicians can detect a “lub-lub” audible heartbeat as early as six weeks. To the contrary, according to Rewire.News, what is being detected is an electrical pulse from something called the fetal pole, a thick area alongside the yolk sac that extends from one end of an embryo to the other. Not the bouncing babies shown on billboards begging their mothers not to kill them! At the fetal pole stage, there is no heart at all.
Now for some more facts:
- Under English common law, abortion was legal until “quickening” (about the fourth month). In the mid-1800s, most states made all abortions illegal under most circumstances. By 1973, legal abortions were available in 17 states. Abortion Law
- Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion but allows for individual states to pass laws regulating abortion in the second and third trimesters. From the majority opinion: “We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacyincludes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” What are those state interests? “…at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant.”
- According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are low income, 60% are in their 20s, and 59% already have a child. Racially, they are 39% white, 28% black, 25% Hispanic, 6% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3% other. 62% are religiously affiliated.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, of the 638,169 abortions reported by states (three did not report):
- 4% were performed at 8 weeks of gestation or less
- 7% were performed at 9-13 weeks of gestation
- 3% were performed at 21 weeks or more
- Among the 39 areas that reported to the CDC by marital status for 2015, 14.3% of all women who obtained an abortion were married, and 85.7% were unmarried.
- In 2015, Florida reported 72,023 abortions to the CDC. Florida did not report abortion patients by age or gestational age of the fetus.
- The CDC found that, in 2014, only six women were identified to have died as a result of complications from legal induced abortion.
- Contraception methods can fail. The CDC reports a 9% failure rate for the “pill”, patch and ring, and 12% for the diaphragm. Male condoms fail at 18%. IUDs are among the most effective methods of contraception (failure rate .2%).
- A fact from another source: (p. 3) 81% of single mothers in Florida have incomes below the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) index, which benchmarks the income a family needs for basic expenses plus emergency and retirement savings.
- In spite of the picture created from the statistics, of a typical abortion patient being an impoverished single mother in her 20s, women 40 years old or more received 3.5% of all abortions.
- In an attempt to portray themselves as fellow human beings, women who have had abortions are starting to tell their stories. (more stories) Some common reasons for unintended pregnancy include:
- Birth control failure
- Abusive relationships
- Poor judgment
- Some reasons for choosing abortion include not being ready to be a mother, physical difficulties short of life-threatening, not being able to afford another child, and severe fetal abnormalities.
Here’s what I learned from these statistics: abortion is not terribly rare. It has been practiced for centuries. Today, it is extremely safe. Around 90% of all abortions are performed before 13 weeks of gestation. Women in their 20s are the primary abortion patients, and black women are disproportionately represented among them, as are women living in poverty. Many of these women have used contraception, but it failed. Many of them already have one or more children, and they likely will have trouble affording the expenses of another child.
However, as the stories tell, there are many reasons for having an abortion, and many different kinds of women have them. Each story is unique. Read them. For some, you might think the woman could have made another choice, but for others, only the most hard-hearted or medically uninformed would deny her right to choose an abortion. That is why “AAUW trusts that every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs. Further, AAUW believes that these deeply personal decisions should be made without government interference.”